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M's Get Another Indian

Before addressing the moves by the Mariners yesterday, I have to touch on the story about Floyd Landis that broke today. Landis, this year's Tour de France winner, is under suspicion of doping after a urine sample taken from him before stage 17 (the stage where he miraculously made up nearly eight minutes after supposedly falling out of contention) indicated high testosterone levels. What this really means is that his testosterone to epitestosterone ratio was abnormally high, and from what I have heard he did not have lots of testosterone but rather a lack of epitestosterone. Some have hypothesized this could be a result of several conditions, most notably the cortisone shots he has been taking to dull the pain in his arthritic hip. Whether that is a credible medical excuse, I have no clue. However, should anyone be surprised that Floyd Landis's drug test revealed high testosterone levels? The man not only just cycled around the perimeter of France on a severely arthritic hip, but also cycled around it faster than everyone else. The drug test proves what was already known: Floyd Landis has serious balls.

Now to the real point of this post. The Mariners were quite busy on Wednesday, starting the day by designating Carl Everett for assignment and finally ending his brief Mariner career. To take his place they called up oft-injured Chris Snelling, who somehow managed to injure himself without playing last night and land back on the disabled list today. This move should have been made over a month ago, so I will not give the Mariners too much credit. Still, I am happy to finally see Everett gone, though I also have to admit he exceeded my expectations. With the announcement of this move, Bill Bavasi added that the Mariners might not be done making moves, almost as if he knew something the rest of us did not. Bavasi was true to his word as he acquired just hours later Ben Broussard from the Cleveland Indians for Shin-Soo Choo and a player to be named later. Bavasi would admit later in the day he knew he would get a deal for a left-handed hitter done, either for Broussard or a mysterious "Player B". "Player B" was most likely Todd Walker of the Cubs.

There is alot to like about Ben Broussard. First of all, he is a left-handed hitter with some power that has destroyed right-handed pitching this year. He had platooned with Eduardo Perez at first base in Cleveland until Perez was traded to the M's, and now they will platoon again at designated hitter. Furthermore, Broussard is under the control of the Mariners until 2008, so he is both a short-term and long-term fix.

However, I have my concerns about this trade. Taking a look at Broussard's home/road splits, I noticed something that worried me. At Jacobs Field this year, Ben has batted .381 with 11 home runs, and on the road he has batted just .248 with 2 home runs. Jacobs Field is not a particularly hitter-friendly park and Broussard has not had a major difference in his home and road numbers in previous seasons, so this may be an aberration. However, Broussard has really broken out this year and it may be just because he has been absurdly hot at home for no apparent reason. Another troubling statistic is his pitches seen per plate appearance. Usually, hitters see more pitches per plate appearance as they get older because they get more selective and discern balls and strikes better. However, Broussard is seeing an average of 3.57 pitches per plate appearance this season, easily the fewest of his career. Considering that the Mariners seem to promote an aggressive approach at the plate, Broussard may average even fewer pitches seen in Seattle which will likely cause his batting average and power to dip even more. Though it is possible Broussard has put everything together this year (like the M's believe), I think it is more likely this is an aberration and that the real Ben Broussard is less than what the M's are counting on him to be. Kudos to the Indians for trading him at what will likely prove to be his peak value.

Even more kudos are in store for Cleveland for getting Shin-Soo Choo in return. I have been high on Choo for several years now and I don't understand why the Mariners did not give him more of a chance. I feel that Choo's hitting ability is at least comparable to Broussard's right now and he definitely has a ton more speed. Choo is also only 24 years old, four years younger than Broussard, so it is not outlandish to expect Choo to develop into a significantly better player than Broussard. According to Bavasi, interest on the trade market for Choo has steadily declined over the last three years, and he also felt there was no place in the Mariners organization for him, so he was content to part with him to get Broussard. The way I see it, the Mariners just made a trade that is considered equal on the current trade market, but they acquired a player at his peak value and gave up a player at his lowest value. A deal like this could end up lopsided, and I do not think it takes too much brain power to decipher which team will likely end up on top. Plus, the Mariners will eventually include a dreaded player to be named later. That player could be an absolute zero or they could be an integral part of the deal; no one will know until that player to be named later is named, later.

As negative as I have been about this trade, the psychological impact it has on the team must be considered. The Mariners players have said from the start that they thought they could win the west and they have to be excited that the front office has been aggressive and added some players that will make a difference. It helps even more that to this point no one else in the division has made a move, which means the guys in the M's clubhouse have to think they have improved the most. The numbers-crunching part of me says the players would perform the same whether the M's made any deals or not, but there is no doubt the players will be happier and more motivated knowing that the front office has faith in them and that the whole organization is committed to winning this year. I do think it is fair to argue that the team's second half swoons, especially in 2002 and 2003, were partially caused by a lack of action at the trade deadline. The players clearly wanted help those years and when they did not get it, they had to be disappointed and that may have carried onto the field and ultimately all the way into the standings. As minor as the Perez and Broussard moves may look, a quick glance around baseball shows no other team that has done more to improve their ballclub (though that is certainly subject to change) and I think the M's players are aware of that.

In the end, the Mariners are a better team with Ben Broussard in place of Carl Everett, but I think Shin-Soo Choo was too heavy of a price to pay. This will be the most compelling August and September northwest baseball fans have seen in years.

Winning Cheap

The All-Star break is usually the deadest sporting time of the year. So, it's a great time of year to devote time to random subjects. I am in the midst of reading Moneyball for the third time and as a result I felt compelled to see how good of a team I could create for cheap. I gave myself $35 million to spend (just a tad less than the lowest payroll in baseball) on a 25-man roster. Here is my team, with 2006 salaries in parantheses (salaries are according to Cot's Baseball Contracts):

1. Carl Crawford, LF ($2.5 Million)
2. Joe Mauer, C ($1.43 Million)
3. Miguel Cabrera, RF ($472,000)
4. Travis Hafner, DH ($2.5 Million)
5. Vernon Wells, CF ($4.3 Million)
6. Chase Utley, 2B ($500,000)
7. David Wright, 3B ($374,000)
8. Ryan Howard, 1B ($355,000)
9. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS ($350,000)

This starting lineup is not just good for the price, it is flat-out good. Crawford provides terrific speed at the top and he, along with Mauer, set the table beautifully for some very formidable hitters in the third through seventh spots. Ryan Howard provides ridiculous power in the eight hole, and Betancourt is an ideal number nine hitter thanks to his great speed. The lineup also staggers left-handers and right-handers almost perfectly, and the defense is quite solid too.

Grady Sizemore, OF ($500,000)
Jorge Cantu, IF ($355,800)
Chris Burke, IF/OF ($362,500)
Nick Swisher, OF/1B ($335,000)
Brian McCann, C ($333,500)

The bench is strong to say the least. Sizemore is the primary left-handed bat and pinch-runner, and Cantu is the primary right-handed bat. All the guys are very good hitters and Burke and Cantu provide great defensive flexibility.

Chris Carpenter ($5 Million)
Francisco Liriano ($327,000)
Scott Kazmir ($371,700)
Dan Haren ($500,000)
Chris Capuano ($450,000)

Outside of Carpenter, there is little postseason experience but these guys are too talented. They all post good strikeout rates and, with the exception of Kazmir at times, also exhibit good control.

Adam Wainwright ($327,000)
Jonathan Papelbon ($335,400)
George Sherrill ($333,000)
Mike Gonzalez ($347,000)
Joel Zumaya ($327,000)
Bobby Jenks ($340,000)

As amazing as Papelbon has been finishing ballgames this year, he came up as a starter and figures to be a starter for the Red Sox down the road. Wainwright, though not closing for St. Louis, is very similar to Papelbon in this respect. So, they are my long relievers on this ballcub because they have the stamina to easily go multiple innings in relief, provide spot starts (though I don't know why I'd ever need one with the starting staff), or pitch one inning in tight situations. George Sherrill has quietly established himself as a dominant specialty lefty in Seattle, and Mike Gonzalez is also a great southpaw who has taken over the closing duties in Pittsburgh after being a setup man. He returns to his setup role on this team. However, the primary eighth inning guy is young Joel Zumaya with his triple-digit heat. Then, to finish things off is another triple-digit flame-thrower, Bobby Jenks.

This team could easily compete with anyone. Amazingly, the total payroll is just $23,325,900, over $11 million less than even the Devil Rays' payroll, the lowest in baseball. It may be harder to win with a smaller budget, but it is far from impossible.

The Game Is An Exhibition

The mid-summer classic, the grandest of all the All-Star games. Something about it makes it more prestigious than the Pro-Bowl or the NBA All-Star Game. Maybe it is the rich history. Maybe it is the game itself, America's pastime. Whatever it is, the MLB All-Star Game is annually the best exhibition in any American sport.

However, the rules of the game have been tinkered with the last couple years and for the worse. Now the game is not a true exhibition since it decides home field advantage for the World Series. Thanks to this rule, debate rages over whether fans should vote for the starting lineups and if every team should be represented. The argument is more than fair and legitimate since the game means something. The MLB All-Star game is not a true competitive match with the current setup, but not an exhibition either. Unbelievably, it is somewhere inbetween.

So, baseball must make a choice: is the game a competition or an exhibition? If they choose that it needs to be competitive and decide home field advantage, then the fans should not vote, not every team should be represented, and the roster should be built to win. The teams would look like World Baseball Classic squads.

But that is not the right choice. The All-Star game is a celebration of baseball, meant to please the fans and reward the players for a job well done. It needs to be an exhibition, the one time where the greatest players in the game go out and play like children in the streets. Remember when Randy Johnson threw a pitch over John Kruk's head, scaring Kruk to death and making him a pathetically easy strikeout victim? Then, four years later, Johnson pulled the same trick against Larry Walker and in response Walker switched around to bat right-handed, even going as far as putting his batting helmet on backwards so the earflap was still in front? Or what about 2001, when Alex Rodriguez forced Cal Ripken Jr. to take the field at shortstop in his final All-Star game? These are great moments that do not happen in a competitive game. Fans see six months worth of competitive baseball; one exhibition in the middle of the year is a breath of fresh air.

Please baseball, make the All-Star game an exhibition again. Take out the home field advantage rule. While you're at it, make a few other changes too. Let the fans vote on the starting pitcher, and also let the fans select one reliever. Keep the rule that every team must be represented, as long as the rosters stay expanded with 32 players, and take the task of picking the final All-Stars out of the manager's hands and make it the baseball writers' task. They know enough to select all the post-season awards, so they are qualified to pick All-Stars and it takes the pressure off managers to pick between their own players and other deserving ones. Also, always have a DH in All-Star games, even when in a National League park. No pitcher is picked because of prodigious hitting ability, so leave hitting in the All-Star game to All-Star hitters. Finally, there should never be a tie like the debacle in Milwaukee. I propose having a game last no longer than 10 innings, and then if the game is still tied, a home run derby decides the winner. Each squad would pick three batters and they each would get three outs (a.k.a., three hits that aren't homers). The team with the most homers in the end would be declared the winner. To add more spice, the opposing team could have three outfielders trying to rob home runs. It would be a quirky way to end a baseball game, but it would be fun to watch, and it is just an exhibition, right?

What Are They Thinking?

After last night's game (yet another loss), the Mariners designated Roberto Petagine for assignment to make room for catcher Luis Oliveros from AA San Antonio. Petagine was the only left-handed bat on the bench and Oliveros will be the third-string catcher.

This move makes absolutely no sense at all from any angle. I still believe that Petagine is a better hitter than Carl Everett and a platoon between Petagine and the recently acquired Eduardo Perez would have been an improvement over playing Everett every day. Petagine could have been a valuable asset if Hargrove had ever used him (he only got 27 ABs the entire year) and now it looks like Perez is destined for the same fate. So, though I think it was idiotic to designate Petagine for assignment, the Mariners probably are not losing much since Hargrove has been even more idiotic with his sparse use of the bench.

Still, why cut the only left-handed hitter on the bench for a third string catcher? As it turns out, Kenji Johjima will miss today's game so he can fly back to Japan and spend an extra day with his family, which includes a new baby. Johjima has more than earned the bonus day since Hargrove plays him too much (once again, too reluctant to use the bench) and it has probably been five months since he has seen his family. Since Kenji obviously won't be available, Hargrove was uncomfortable with the idea of having only one true catcher available for the game. I would be willing to take the risk, since it would be for only today's game and Willie Bloomquist could play catcher in a pinch, but I won't fight this point and concede that there is some logic in calling up a catcher.

However, that is still not an excuse for getting rid of Petagine. The Mariners could have easily called up Oliveros and kept Roberto on the bench. What they could have done instead is transfer Mike Morse to the 60-day DL (since he tore up his knee in Tacoma and is probably done for the year anyway) to make room on the 40-man roster for Oliveros and then they could have "sent down" Felix Hernandez. King Felix isn't getting into today's ballgame so using his slot for a day would make sense. The only problem is that he would have to wait 10 days until being recalled so he would miss one start after the All-Star break. However, the Mariners wisely want to limit Felix's innings anyway, so even this would not be a huge deal. Seattle could send Oliveros back down after the All-Star break and call up someone for a spot start. With just a little creativity, Petagine could have been spared.

With this first error having been addressed, now I can get to my biggest problem with the move: why was Luis Oliveros the choice? The Mariners have not one, not two, but THREE catchers in AAA and all would have been better options than Oliveros. Luis was batting just .194 in AA with a mere two extra base hits, both doubles, in 98 at-bats! Clearly, the kid is not even close to ready for big league pitching. Why was he the choice over any member of Seattle's AAA catching trio, Rob Johnson, Jeff Clement, and Guillermo Quiroz? Johnson is batting .250 in AAA with just a spark of power, but still much more than Oliveros. Furthermore, the organization raves about Johnson's defensive ability (though I have to wonder if they are just blowing smoke up our posteriors. After all, they called up Luis Oliveros in front of him). Jeff Clement was the M's top pick, third overall, only one year ago and everyone agrees he can hit. He still needs work defensively and is coming off an injury, so I am not too angry that he did not get the call. However, I still would have picked him over Oliveros because he can atleast do something. Plus, calling Clement up even if just for a day would create much more buzz and a little shot in the arm for a team that has been battered and bruised in July thus far. Finally, there is the man that should have been called up, Guillermo Quiroz. Quiroz actually made the opening day roster but was designated for assignment for apparently no reason a week into the season and Rene Rivera took his place. No other team claimed Quiroz and he was assigned to Tacoma where he has hit .313 with 8 doubles and 3 homers in 134 at-bats. He is only a year older than Oliveros but much more accomplished, as he has a couple months in the majors already under his belt and was selected to play in the All-Star Futures game a couple of years ago too.

In the end, designating Petagine for assignment and calling up Oliveros probably has very little impact on the team. However, I cannot get over how abominable the move is. I cannot find any logic in it at all. It is utterly and completely wrong, no matter how dissected. As much as I believe continuity is key to winning, moves like this make me seriously question Bill Bavasi and/or Mike Hargrove's baseball acumen. This move is so bad I almost hope both are fired over it.

The Choo-sen One

After an exciting 7-2 road trip, the Mariners were aiming to have a much better series than they just did against the Rockies. The last game was particularly painful since they lost in 11 innings and more importantly, lost Sean Green to back spasms and Jeremy Reed to a broken thumb. Quite literally, the game was a painful loss.

Emiliano Fruto was called up to replace Green, continuing the shuttle the two of them have been riding between the last bullpen spot and Tacoma. This move was an obvious one and should come as no surprise.

However, the Mariners could have gone several ways with Jeremy Reed's replacement. They could have handed the starting job to Willie Bloomquist and recalled Mike Morse to be the utility guy. They could have called up 20-year-old hot prospect Adam Jones, who has been the starting centerfielder for a majority of Tacoma's games and also leads the Rainiers in home runs and RBIs. The oft-injured Chris Snelling is healthy again after major knee surgery and hitting well in Tacoma too.

For now the Mariners have left all of those players in the minors and made the right choice by calling up Shin-Soo Choo. He is quite young himself at 23 years old (though he turns 24 on July 13) and is one of the finest prospects from the Pat Gillick era. This year, Choo has used his sweet left-handed swing to accumulate a .327 batting average with a .401 OBP, .506 SLG, 11 home runs, 42 RBIs and also posseses great speed, as evidenced by 22 steals in just 26 attempts before today's promotion. Choo is a rare five-tool talent and his numbers indicate he is polished enough to be given a shot in the big leagues.

While it was disheartening to see Reed take himself out of yesterday's game and later find out he had broken his thumb, it may be a blessing in disguise for the Mariners. It was time to give Choo a shot in center to see if he could provide more offense and Reed's injury gives the Mariners the opportunity to see what happens, without taking the awkward step of demoting Jeremy. Word is Choo is starting tonight and hitting eighth. I can't wait to see him. Sin-Shoo Choo may be here to stay for good.